Israel Crosses the Jordan River

Let’s learn Hebrew!

The most important name for us Christians is Jesus. But this word – Jesus - is a transliteration of His real name, which was a Hebrew word. In the original Hebrew, His name is Yeshua. By transliteration, I mean a name in an original language (Hebrew, in this case) which is pronounced differently in another language (English, in this case). In fact, the name Jesus is an English transliteration of the Latin, Iesu, which is a Latin transliteration of the Greek, Iesous, which is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua.

Additionally, this name Yeshua has two different English transliterations: Jesus and Joshua. Joshua is an immediate transliteration from Hebrew to English, skipping the Greek and Latin. The important point for us: they are both the same name. There are two Joshua’s in the OT and they are both types of Jesus. The same name is the give-away, although us English speaking moderns don’t notice it due to the above Hebrew lesson. This essay will look at Joshua, successor of Moses and leader of Israel into the Promised Land. The Book of Joshua is about him. We should first notice that Joshua was born with a different name: Hoshea. Moses changed his name to Joshua (Num 13:16); name changes should always remind us of covenants. As we are looking at Joshua as a type of Jesus, we should be considering how Jesus will transform the old covenant into the new. Let’s start with a quote from Moses, from his farewell speech to Israel just prior to his death:

15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren--him you shall heed-- 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' 17 And the LORD said to me, 'They have rightly said all that they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Dt 18:15-19)

The Lord promised Moses that He would raise up another prophet like Moses to lead the Israelites. This promise was fulfilled immediately with Joshua. But we Christians understand that this promised prophet was finally fulfilled in Jesus, an understanding going back to St. Peter (cf Acts 3:22). Joshua was, then, a type of Jesus in that he fulfilled this prophecy regarding the coming Christ. Let’s examine a particular event in the Book of Joshua that sheds some light on the New Covenant: the crossing of the Jordan river.

Joshua chapters 3-5 tell the whole story. It starts with Israel crossing the Jordan river in a miraculous manner reminiscent of the crossing of the Red Sea 40 years prior. Israel approached the Promised Land from the east; the Jordan river was the eastern border of that land, so they needed to cross the river to reach the Promised Land on the west side of the river. The Levite priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the river, upon which the river ceased its flow, creating a dry riverbed over which the Israelites crossed to the west side. When they finished crossing over, the priests also carried the Ark to the other side and the river resumed its flow. This was a second miraculous crossing of a body of water, the first being part of the story associated with the Mosaic covenant. This crossing through the water was an OT allusion to Christian baptism.

As Israel crossed the river, a man from each of the twelve tribes collected a rock from the dried riverbed. These twelve rocks were set up as a memorial nearby. This should remind us of another moment in the Mosaic covenant story, when Moses wrote down the words of God which he heard on Mt. Sinai, the Law of the Covenant. Then he set up twelve stone pillars and an altar. He offered sacrifice on the altar and poured blood on the altar and then on the Israelites, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant” (Ex 24:4-8). In Joshua and the twelve stones, we see a second image of this very important OT covenant moment, which is the source Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “This is the blood of the New Covenant,” our Eucharist (Mk 14:24)[1].

Next, the Israelites were circumcised, as they had not been so during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. Remember: this was the second generation of Israel, born in the wilderness. Their parents did not obey the Lord so well and they failed to circumcise their sons. This second generation was now circumcised with flint stones. In Jos 5:2, the Lord calls this circumcision a “second time.” Recall that circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. From a Christian perspective, circumcision – normally done to eight-day old infants – was an allusion to baptism.

Finally, after Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan river, after their men were circumcised, they kept the Passover. This is the first mention of Passover since Mt. Sinai, 39 years prior. This would be the third time Israel celebrated the Passover (first time in Egypt: Ex 12:1-28), second time in Sinai: Nm 9:1-5). More precisely, this was the second time Israel kept the Passover commemoration. From a Christian perspective, Passover signified the Eucharist.

Furthermore, that other OT sign of the Eucharist, the manna from heaven, then ceased. That manna nourished Israel through the wilderness, but now that they had reached the Promised Land, it was no longer needed. On that day, the Israelites ate unleavened bread from the grain of the new Promised Land; it was this bread which they used for Passover. This was he first time these Israelites ate bread other than manna. We can say this was their second bread; the images of manna as well as the bread of the Promised Land should make us think of the Eucharist.

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned. There is a strong emphasis on the second of things: second generation of Israel, second miraculous crossing of water, second monument of twelve stones, second circumcision, second Passover commemoration, second bread. Next, we note that these things were related to the OT covenants of Abraham & Moses. But they also remind us of the NT covenant signs of baptism and the Eucharist, i.e., the sacraments. From a Christian perspective, this story reminds us that the first covenant, the old covenants of Abraham and Moses, were superseded by the second covenant, the New covenant of Jesus. The backdrop of this story is the entry into the Promised Land, itself a symbol of entering heaven.

This brings us back to a fundamental: Our sacraments, the signs of the New Covenant, were given to us by Jesus, who leads us to heaven. So, His OT type, Joshua, led Israel into the Promised Land amid these OT covenantal images that pointed so strongly to the new and future sacraments of the New Covenant.

1 When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 2 Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. 3 The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back. 4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. 5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? 6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? 7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water. (Ps 114)

In this psalm, reference is made to this Jordan river crossing, when “Jordan turned back.” Note the final verse, when the flint tuned into a spring of water: The flint of the old circumcision has been turned into a spring of baptismal water. (For explanation of the rock which turned into a pool of water, see this essay.)

[1] The RSVCE does not include the word "new," though the notes refer to ancient authorities inserting the word "new." Most translations inlcude the word "new." (back)